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Family of woman found dead in the woods in Orlando sues sheriff and deputies for allegedly not properly investigating her disappearance

By Melissa Alonso, CNN

(CNN) — The family of a 19-year-old woman found dead in the woods near her Orlando, Florida, apartment is suing the Orange County sheriff’s office and two deputies for negligence and civil rights violations over their handling of the 2021 case, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.

Miya Marcano, a Valencia College student who went missing from her apartment in the Arden Villas complex on September 24, 2021, was found dead in a wooded area on October 2. Her hands and feet were bound and her mouth covered in tape, officials said.

Marcano’s parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the apartment complex and its management partner, the Preiss Company, with all sides settling out of court last month for an undisclosed amount, court records show.

Now, two years after her death, attorneys for the Marcano family have filed a lawsuit in the Orange County Ninth Judicial Circuit Court alleging the sheriff’s office and two of its deputies had enough evidence to save Marcano’s life or lead to her discovery sooner.

According to the lawsuit, deputy Samir Paulino, the first deputy to respond to Marcano’s apartment for a welfare check, failed to treat the apartment as a “crime scene” despite “obvious warning signs” that a crime had been committed.

In the initial welfare check, “Deputy Paulino did not inform anyone about the evidence of a potential crime he observed inside of Miya’s apartment,” the complaint stated.

Paulino had sufficient evidence that “could have led to the discovery of Miya much sooner,” but the “case was not a priority,” said the complaint.

Evidence that was allegedly ignored during the investigation included blood on a pillow and several pieces of broken jewelry, according to the lawsuit, which also alleges Paulino failed to ask to search the vehicle of Armando Caballero – a maintenance man at the complex who Orange County Sheriff John Mina later said investigators “pretty conclusively” believed was responsible for Marcano’s death.

Authorities believe Caballero, who was found dead from an apparent suicide on September 27, 2021, had accessed Marcano’s apartment without her permission. His estate was named as a defendant in the earlier wrongful death lawsuit.

Marcano’s father contacted the sheriff’s office “to lodge a complaint because of Paulino’s failure to treat Miya’s disappearance with a sense of urgency,” the complaint stated.

Paulino allegedly shared what he learned with his supervisor, Cpl. Kenneth Dale, and the two discussed the case over the phone, according to the lawsuit.

But neither shared “extremely critical information” about Caballero, who’d had a “heated exchange” with family members at the scene, “with anyone before completing their shifts,” the lawsuit stated.

Meanwhile, “Dale testified he was not aware of any information regarding a bedroom window or blood on the scene and the furniture up against the door was not accurately portrayed to him.”

The day after the 19-year-old went missing, Paulino returned to the Arden Villas to meet with Jacolby Coleman, a security guard at the apartment complex.

“Coleman also advised Deputy Paulino that he had lifted fingerprints from the scene using tape and attempted to provide the evidence to Paulino but Deputy Paulino, with a smirk on his face, told Mr. Coleman to keep the evidence in case it would be needed later,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the complaint, “discrimination against missing women was a motivating factor in the refusal to properly investigate.”

The sheriff’s office “has a policy, practice, or custom of law enforcement that provides less protection….to missing female victims than to victims of other assaults,” by not responding “or purposefully delaying its response,” the lawsuit states.

A sheriff’s office spokesperson declined CNN’s request for a statement, citing the agency’s policy not to comment on pending litigation.

CNN has reached out to the deputies named and the police union for comment on the lawsuit but has not yet heard back.

Last year, both deputies were disciplined in connection with this case for violating department policies, according to CNN affiliate WESH.

Paulino received a 150-hour unpaid suspension for “unsatisfactory performance,” while Dale received a 10-hour unpaid suspension as discipline, according to WESH.

In a statement following the suspensions, Mina said, “Managers in the responding deputy’s chain of command recognized a lack of urgency on his part, and asked that his role – and the role of his Corporal – in the first hours of that incident be investigated by our Professional Standards division.

“That deputy was sustained for Unsatisfactory Performance and the discipline was harsh. As a result of this incident, we are in the process of making changes to policy that will direct first-responding patrol deputies to immediately notify their supervisors, and the Missing Persons Unit, in any case in which someone is considered a Missing Endangered Person.”

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